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Lassa fever outbreak worsens with over 200 deaths in Nigeria

Lassa fever outbreak worsens with over 200 deaths in Nigeria

NIGERIA—Nigerian public health officials have announced that at least 219 deaths from Lassa fever in 2023, following the disease’s emergence in 121 of the total 774 local government areas in Nigeria.

According to a statement from the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), the country reported 1,227 confirmed cases of acute viral hemorrhagic disease across 28 of the 36 states last year.

The most recent figures show an increase in confirmed cases and fatalities recorded in 2023 when compared to 1,055 cases and 189 deaths recorded in 2022. The research also stated that the case fatality rate in 2023 will be 17.5 percent.

The overall number of probable cases reached 8,978, a considerable increase from the 8,130 reported in 2022, according to the NCDC.

Lassa fever (LF) is an acute viral infection and a viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) caused by the Lassa virus, a single-stranded RNA virus in the Arenaviridae family.

This  disease is transmitted to humans through contaminated food or household goods infected with rodent urine or feces. It can also spread when rat saliva, urine, and excreta comes into contact with humans.

Person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in health care settings where infection prevention and control procedures are inadequate.

Diagnosis and timely treatment are critical, with a 1% case fatality rate. Case mortality is estimated to be around 15% among patients hospitalized with severe clinical manifestations of Lassa fever.

Early supportive care, including rehydration and symptom relief,  can improve survival.

Approximately 80% of those who become infected with the Lassa virus show no symptoms.

In some cases, Lassa fever symptoms resemble malaria and develop one to three weeks following virus transmission. The condition produces fever, lethargy, weakness, and headaches in moderate cases. 

One in every five infections results in severe disease, with the virus affecting multiple organs such as the liver, spleen, and kidneys.

Lassa fever was named after the Nigerian town where the first cases were discovered in 1969.

Lassa fever is known to be endemic in Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Nigeria, but it is also likely to exist in other West African nations. 

According to the CDC, 100,000 to 300,000 Lassa fever cases occur each year, with around 5,000 deaths.

Because surveillance for Lassa fever varies by location, in some areas of Sierra Leone and Liberia, about 10–16% of people brought to hospitals yearly have Lassa fever.

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